After my divorce, I did not revert to my maiden name.
One of the things that the publisher, the editor, and I have had to deliberate over has to do with the name that I will be publishing under. Although the publisher acknowledged that marketing non-fiction can be tricky using a pseudonym, his first instinct was that this particular book should be able to circumvent those problems. The editor, on the other hand, was of the opinion that I had to use my real name – even if it meant resorting to the use of my maiden name instead. In his words: ‘I feel that the author should write the book in her own name. Writing under a pseudonym will make the book difficult to market and does not align with the author’s core message of dealing with divorce in an up-front way.’
We went back and forth over this and I was almost convinced to just go ahead and use my maiden name after all. I would have loved to, actually, but it didn’t feel quite ‘right.’ In the end, Bill (the editor) said it was ultimately my call.
A divorce memoirist whose work I have admired since my own divorce agreed with Bill. As she put it: ‘I never would have considered publishing my book under a pseudonym. It was extremely important to be fully truthful, and I think readers would have had a difficult time trusting me if I hid behind a fake name.’
We had this conversation several months after I thought I’d settled the name issue for good. Her words made me really question myself, though, which was a good thing, as this is a decision I’ll have to carry with me forever. In addition to feeling like using a pen name would prevent the book from ‘ringing true,’ she also brought up the point that the use of a pen name seemed like a means of protecting my ex-husband from the consequences of the choices he made – a means of preserving the status quo (which is that, men tend to be unfaithful to their wives and there’s nothing women can do about it, and that’s that).
Interestingly, like Bill, she also advised that I steer away from saying certain things – that I find a way to allude to infidelity, for instance, without directly making any accusations in this regard. In Bill’s case, he gave the advice that any book editor would: that I couldn’t use the words of identifiable people in the book without getting their written permission.
Well, what’s a girl to do, then?
I resolved these issues in my head on a recent long-haul flight which provided plenty of time to just sit in one spot and think.
I do not at all feel that using a pen name takes away from the authenticity of what I have to say. I have never felt so. This blog actually started out (and was maintained for quite a long time) without an association with any name at all. I’m convinced that the fact that I was anonymous (and started out thinking that I always would be) actually freed me to delve into some things that I might not have, had I started out using my name. And since I have neither sought nor obtained permission from my children’s father to use his words, not using my real name just makes sense to me. No one’s privacy can be protected 100%, but the pen name gives a certain measure of protection.
I have hung on to using snippets of certain conversations, and certain words of others, including my ex. I’ll just have to take that risk. What would the Running into The Other Woman post be without the ‘classic’ sentence: ‘On behalf of my family, I just want to apologize to her for all the pain that she has suffered as a result of being falsely accused’??? That sentence is probably etched in my memory forever. Unlike it the past, I think of it today without bitterness, but I don’t think I will ever come to remember it without complete amazement. In my mind, that is one sentence that holds much of that particular story together. Without that sentence, I wouldn’t have fallen apart in public. I would have succeeded in holding onto to my usual, cool, calm demeanor throughout that fateful meeting. Without that sentence, I don’t think the reader would have gotten to see just how deep the hurt was, just how far below the belt the blow was.
Well, who cares? So what if I was deeply hurt once? Or twice, or more?
I think women might care. I am not suggesting that this sort of thing happens in every African woman’s relationship, but whether it does or not, I think it’ll make us all sit up and be more proactive about creating the sort of relationships we want, to the extent that it is within our power.
I think men might care. Because communication is often such a huge problem in relationships, men often have no inkling just what kind of pain that one poor decision can inflict on their partner. I hope that many of the stories will give them a glimpse into just what it is like. A glimpse into just how much havoc a wrong decision made in a split second can cause.
I think the Church might care. These stories are mainly about the demise of a Christian marriage. They represent just one of many Christian marriages hanging by a thread or already destroyed. I hope that in laying it all out, that the Church will be forced to look at the remains of one marriage (mine), and glean something from the autopsy in order to help other struggling marriages. I hope that the Church will gain a sense of how to help out a bit better, of what to do in general, by reading my story.
Some dear friends of mine (a married couple) also made me pause and think about my motives for moving forward with this book. Not that they were discouraging me from doing so at all; they were just playing devil’s advocate – just to be sure that I was clear about things in my own mind. Having a blog is one thing, they said. But having a book is a whole other ball game. Why are you writing this book?
I’m writing this book because I was meant to write it. Call it denial, but my mind is simply unable to accept the idea that my experiences in marriage and divorce have all been for nothing. There has got to be a reason for the path that I have walked.
I’m writing this book because when I was struggling in a difficult marriage, and then, navigating the waters of divorce, I desperately wanted to read about the experience of others to help me with mine, and I couldn’t find any books by anyone like me.
I’m writing this book because I have finally found a form of ‘labor’ that I would gladly give myself to even if I weren’t paid for it.
I’m writing this book because the chance to do so essentially fell in my lap. It came to me more than I had to hunt for it. And now that I think about it, the best things in my life have always been those things that weren’t a big struggle to obtain or to make happen.
I’m writing this book because the reactions to the blog made me realize there’s a need for it – not just for the divorced, but for the married and never married. I have written frankly about quite a number of things that I wish someone had been able to tell me in plain English before I got married. I have written about things I wish I had known when I was in a marriage. I have also focused on the realities of divorce – the ‘good,’ the ‘bad,’ and the ‘ugly.’ Few books can actually be for everybody, but I have written a book that I know will be for some people. And that’s enough.
I’m writing this book because I have to keep on keeping on. To keep moving. Although I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced it myself, necessarily, I think divorce can have a pretty stagnating effect. I’m struck by one of the last things that Efuru said in Flora Nwapa’s book by the same title: I have ended where I began … I can see how easily that could turn out to be the case for any divorced person, but I reject this as my personal testimony. There’s a lot to do out there, and so I’m ‘doing.’ I can’t end up where I began. It just not possible – I’ve come too far. I'm writing this book because I sense that the book's ending will open up a new chapter in my own life.
There’s one more reason why I will be using a pseudonym. It is, in fact, the first reason that came to mind when I decided not to use my real name: My day job involves a staggering amount of a very different kind of writing that is supposed to have little or nothing to do with how I ‘feel.’ When the publisher expressed interest in turning the blog into a book, my first thought centered on the need to keep some distance between the book and the job that I earn a living from. I’m not sure why that was an immediate thought; it’s hard to explain. I suppose it boils down to the fact that, for each type of writing, I want to be judged as objectively as possible (since writers are always judged, no matter what). I don’t want the judgment pronounced over the first type of writing I do, to cloud the reader’s judgment of the second type (if that makes sense).
And so, I will be using a pen name.
p.s. – Excuse the disjointed arguments and any typos. Very sleepy right now. Night …